Suicide bomber strikes near S.C. Guard camp

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Capt. David Brooks was about to dig into his bowl of cereal Tuesday morning when a blast rocked the dining hall at Camp Phoenix.

"Stuff started falling from the ceiling," said Brooks, an S.C. National Guard officer from Cheraw. "I said, 'We better get out of here.'"

Outside, Brooks saw black smoke rising from just south of the base. A suicide bomber in a car had attacked a military convoy near the base's main gate, wounding four U.S. soldiers and three Afghans. The blast killed the bomber.

The names of the wounded U.S. troops and their units were withheld Tuesday so their families could be notified. However, they may be known today.

Camp Phoenix is on the outskirts of the Afghan capital. The camp is headquarters of Task Force Phoenix, under the command of the S.C. National Guard's 218th Brigade Combat Team, which has 1,800 soldiers in Afghanistan.

Two of the injured U.S. soldiers were evacuated to the trauma center at Bagram Airfield, about 50 miles from Kabul. The other two were treated at the base clinic. Their conditions were not known, a news release said.

The three injured Afghan residents were treated at Camp Blackhorse, a base about 10 miles from Camp Phoenix.

All of the wounded soldiers were riding in an armored Humvee at the time of the attack.

"This incident is a harsh reminder that we must stay vigilant in our efforts to provide stability and security," said Task Force Phoenix commander Brig. Gen. Bob Livingston of Gaston, an S.C. National Guard officer. "Our goal right now is to ensure our warriors and the injured local nationals get the best possible care, and we pray for their quick recovery."

Taliban guerrillas claimed responsibility for the attack, part of their war against the Afghan government and its U.S. and coalition allies.

The blast happened about 8:45 a.m. local time, 12:15 a.m. in South Carolina. The concussion rocked the base, rattled windows and shook the doors and walls of its plywood huts and steel modular housing. A huge fireball erupted, followed by a thin column of black smoke.

Sgt. Michael Chesney, of Greenville, said he heard the blast while driving a pickup across the base. "It shook the truck, and then I saw the fireball and smoke."

Lt. Scott Spangler, who was standing outside the base's dining hall, said the fireball appeared to shoot up "20 to 30 feet."

"I could see debris going up with it," added Spangler, who was called up from the Individual Ready Reserve to serve with the S.C. brigade. Spangler is from Juneau, Alaska.

One chunk of shrapnel, the size of a brick, was hurled about 550 yards and slammed through the entryway of a hut on the base. No injuries were reported from flying debris.

Camp Phoenix is on a heavily traveled, divided, four-lane road called Jalalabad Highway. It's part of Afghanistan's "ring road" system that connects major cities.

After the attack, soldiers closed the road, as commanders investigated the blast.

Initial reports from the scene were confused. Reuters said two Afghans were killed, including the suicide bomber. The Associated Press said three soldiers and up to seven Afghans were wounded. It also reported that, in the aftermath of the attack, U.S. troops opened fire on Afghan police arriving at the scene, killing a policeman.

Five S.C. National Guard soldiers were injured in May, when a suicide bomber set off an explosive near their convoy in Gardez.